An Assembly Committee is looking into what effects the pesticide could have on workers in the fields. University of California scientists warned lawmakers methyl iodide is so dangerous they can't let the chemical touch anything outside of the lab.
"It is a zero release compound. It is a Class C toxin ... way higher than any radio activity that we use," said Professor Kathleen Collins, PhD, UC Berkeley Molecular Biologist.
UC Riverside invented methyl iodide. The company that makes the new pesticide says it is safe when handled properly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency poured over research backing up that claim before approving it in 2007; 47 other states subsequently approved the use of methyl iodide.
"That gives us the ability to stand behind our product and know that it can be used ... and indeed is being used today in the Southeast safely, and workers protected, and education is there," said Michael Allan, Arysta LifeScience.
Strawberry growers are anxious for an alternative to kill pests. Federal law requires them to set up buffer zones and ban workers from going into fields for 48 hours after methyl iodide is used. But neighbors say those precautions don't always protect people living near the fields.
"It just doesn't seem right for a pesticide company to make a little bit of extra money that entire communities are put in danger," said Marilyn Lynds, a Monterey County resident who lives near strawberry fields.
The state will decide whether to approve methyl iodide use by the end of the year.